As a mom blogger, my kids have grown up seeing me use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In many ways, their lives have been documented through social media and now they are very outspoken on what can and can’t be shared. However, I don’t assume for one second that it means that my tweens know how to use social media appropriately. They might know how to use the apps, but that does not mean they are clear on what should be shared and how.
My son is entering sixth grade, has a smartphone and already has an Instagram account. Surprisingly, he was one of the last ones in his class to be allowed on Instagram. What surprises me the most is that so many of his friends’ parents do not even use this popular social network.
Instead of fighting technology, my husband and I believe in teaching our children how to use it appropriately. That not only entails establishing only ground rules, but it also means explaining how the Internet works, how much information to share publicly, how what you post can affect others and that anything you share lives in cyberspace forever. So gaining access to Instagram meant my son had to endure several talks with us, plus allow us to monitor his feed. And yes, that means we have asked him to delete a couple of posts. It is extra work for us, but so far he’s proven we can trust him and he’s learning to use social media to stay connected with his friends over the summer.
Instagram is a tween favorite because it’s so easy to use and kids love sharing what they’re doing with a photo or video. Another reason it’s so popular with pre-teens is that many downloaded the app on their iPods or on a tablet, since they only need wifi access and not a mobile phone. Once they open an account, they easily get addicted to seeing how many likes they get and the comments their friends post. That’s why it is also important to explain to children that Instagram is not a popularity contest and that their self-esteem should not rely on how many followers or likes they have. It’s just a fun tool!
Tips if you’ll allow your child to have Instagram
If you have a tween here are a few tips if you allow him or her to use Instagram:
- Establish clear rules from the beginning and state clearly that if your child does not follow them, you will ban them from using the app.
- Open the account together and make the account private.
- Allow your child to accept only people he or she knows.
- Monitor their account, either by following them on Instagram or checking their mobile phone, tablet or iPod. Tell them that you will be reviewing what they post and whom they follow, so they cannot accuse you of spying later on.
- Explain that anything that is posted online must be assumed to be public even if their account is private. People can do screenshots and repost, for example.
- If your child has a smartphone, limit access to Instagram only when he or she has WiFi, unless you have an unlimited data plan. Pictures and now videos can end up using lots of megabytes!
- Remind them constantly to not share too much personal information and to not use Instagram to make fun of others.
Even if you have a set of rules and your child is very responsible, be prepared to spend time monitoring his or her Instagram feed. Especially when you’re allowing a tween on a social network, you are opening the doors to comments and pictures you cannot control, so be aware that you might to have a few uncomfortable conversations about inappropriate posts from his or her friends. If you’re not ready for that, it might not be time yet to allow your tween to have an Instagram account.
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